Kolmaskop Namibia 1


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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Dalene and Pete Heck

Why are we so drawn to destruction?

(I pose that question to you, the collective human “we”, as it’s not one I can determinately answer myself, despite the fact that Pete and I have touched on this topic before, and again, and drove many hours out of our way in Namibia to visit Kolmanskop.)

We can’t deny that part of the attraction is just in the challenge to photograph. Not only in terms of finding perfect light and angles, but to attempt to capture emotion from these places that were once so lively, then suddenly abandoned, and now sitting frozen in time.

And in the case of Kolmanskop, being slowly reclaimed by the desert around it.

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Once a thriving mining village founded in what was known as German South-West Africa in the early 1900s, Kolmanskop was abandoned in less than 50 years as the diamond field around it was slowly exhausted. At its height, 1,300 inhabitants were afforded every luxury available as diamonds were literally plucked off the ground to fill jars by hand. For a short time, given its small population, the village held the title of the highest per capita wealth in the world.

And now all that remain are the bones of that former grandiose town. With peeling paint and doors hanging on their hinges. Footprints of tiny creatures that have moved in with the sand and tools left to rust over decades. Inexplicably, there are several bathtubs strewn outside.

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We split up when we entered the town to try and cover as much ground as possible while we still had the early morning light. We were the first to arrive and few others joined us on our quest. At times I trudged through knee deep sand with my camera tucked under my arm and away from the wind. Ineffectually, it would seem, as two dust spots appeared that would ruin my photos for the rest of our time in Africa.

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The wind’s velocity picked up as the sun rose higher. The prime time for photos had passed along with my patience, I tightened every opening in my clothing to resist the all-consuming sandstorm. We retreated, grievously, and briefly tossed around the idea of returning the next day before beginning the long drive back to the capital.

There is something unsettling in admitting to the allure of ruins, especially to find such delight in a demise of the modern era. But Kolmanskop is one place I could see us returning to again in several years, and then again after that. For as the ground was once scrubbed for the valuable resources within, it is a fascinating thing to witness the earth reclaim what’s hers.

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how to do it and where we stayed

The visitor gate is not open at dawn, but you are still able to enter to take photos if you purchase a special permit from the tourist shop in town the day before. We arrived late and missed buying it the previous day, but showed up at the gate early anyway and the attendant arrived just half an hour after the sun rose. There are also tours available later in the day during opening hours, and there is a museum and cafe on site. Note that photography permits cost more than the standard entry fee.We stayed in nearby Luderitz, at the Alte Loge Gästehaus for a very reasonable rate. It was very comfortable and served one of the best breakfasts we had in all of Namibia.

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  1. I wonder if it’s destruction, as such, or if it’s the spark in our imagination for what was once. You go to stately homes or palaces and they leave it, exactly as it would be, so that all you need is costumed actors to walk through and reenact. In ruins, so much of it is left up to our imagination. Who lived here? What were they like? Why did they move here? What did they want in life? It gets your brain spiralling in all sorts of creative directions.

    My favourite “ruins” have been old, abandoned mining towns in Alberta and Pompeii, of course! How an entire city could be covered and forgotten, only to be uncovered section by section is incredible.

    Gorgeous photos.

    1. Very interesting perspective Victoria. Definitely a lot of questions come to mind when you walk through these places. We haven’t experienced Pompeii yet, but it’s definitely on our radar.


  2. Beautiful photography! I REALLY love the bottom photo. I like to paint/photograph the abandoned lumber mills and houses here in Northern California. There’s something really beautiful about the forest reclaiming the territory.

    1. Thank you Jessica. I think you would love painting here. As long as you didn’t get blasted with a sandstorm 😉

  3. The pictures are of course absolutely beautiful, intriguing & haunting.

    Places like these leave you imagining what life was like, sometimes you almost feel like you are getting to walk in the shoes of the people who lived there & experience their lives. It makes history feel more tangible.

    And lastly, I totally agree, sandstorms suck! You get sand in every possible nook & cranny. When we camped in the Grand Canyon (AZ) there were high winds & our tent, sleeping bags, clothes, hair, eyes, nose, etc. had sand lodged in them for days!

    1. Thank you Ashley. These places definitely let your imagination run wild. I like your quote, “it makes history feel more tangible”. Nicely put.

  4. I don’t know what it is about reclamation, but you’ve certainly hit it right on the nose saying that we are fascinated by this natural destruction and reclaiming by nature. Angkor Wat may be the most famous example, but this just has me drooling. Thanks for the discovery!!

  5. Oh, I’ve SO been looking forward to this post since the Instagram sneak peek! Amazing photos! I love abandoned places as well. There are a few old mining towns by us in Washington State that I really want to explore. These photos absolutely make the early morning trip worth it! How many others were with you guys when you went exploring? It feels like you were all alone. Just perfect. 🙂

    1. For the first part of the morning we were pretty much alone. I only saw one other guy and a model leaving the town when we came in (I would have loved to seen his photo shoot). But it was as it should be, deserted. 🙂

  6. Photos are gorgeous as always. But your thoughts about being drawn to destruction hit home for me. Lately I’ve been in Romania, exploring post-Communist areas. The buildings that were abandoned and are shells of their former lives are so fascinating, especially when they are surrounded by new construction. I also have a sick interest in all Chernobyl photos (never been there) like the ferris wheel…so interesting!

    1. I’m with you on Chernobyl, it is high on my list as a place I want to photograph. So fascinating. Thanks Julie!

    2. Julie, check out the Instagram hashtag for #Pripyat . It’s pretty amazing some of the photos that turn up. 🙂 I’d love to visit one day too. It looks incredible.

  7. Decay and ruins – I think our fascination stems from our own understanding of life. We age, decay and in death are abandoned in spirit with only a well aged body left behind and maybe a good headstone. The places are perhaps personified and the metaphor of the life cycle – sometimes no matter how grand the building/city was – is so strong it resonates with the human experience.

    Fabulous photos. Dalene I absolutely love your writing. I am finding myself in a bit of a writing lull right now and reading through your blog finding just what I needed!

  8. I guess, destruction, especially with places like Kolmanskop, which were once soaked in wealth and riches, show us the stark contrast of impermanence in the pattern of life. The concept is a bit dark, just like night might be to some people – but it’s just as still, and silent and so very beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous post!

  9. The photos made me nostalgic for some reason. It’s a little bit saddening to think that the place once had people who lived it on. But the photos are incredible.

  10. I think we are drawn to destruction in a morbid way. We all run around in this day and age believing that if we do x,y,z then we can create this perfect life that will stay like that for the rest of time.

    Yet destruction is guaranteed proof that it does not. Our unconsciousness knows that, and that is why places like this do have some kind of lure.

  11. Another very interesting post and destination! As a solo traveler, I often take comfort in crowds, so these posts from Namibia are particularly intriguing as you seem to run into few people.

    I used to belong to a photography club here in Chicago and one of my favorite outings with them was a trip to Gary, Indiana where we visited some abandoned buildings from Gary’s heyday. It was quite fascinating, and I loved capturing the photos.

  12. Hi Dalene,
    I love this photoblog. I love the idea of being drawn to destruction. I think we are simply intrigued by the possibilities and vulnerability of it all. In some ways it’s pretty creepy to think about walking through abandoned ghost towns and I think that’s part of the appeal to go to a place that people moved away from.

    It’s such a curious thing to walk through places like this and as a photographer there’s so much potential what can be done.

    Even if (as you said) didn’t get there in time based on the lighting, you did a great job with your photos. I imagine there are tons of others that were post worthy sitting in your hard drive.

    I really liked how you outlined abandonment, being frozen in time, the earth taking back what’s hers. There’s a loneliness to some of that and it pulls us in for some reason. Maybe these are just my random thoughts.

    Regardless, I enjoyed this post. More more more photos to come please 🙂

    Love from Asia,

  13. Beautiful photos. Ive always been drawn to abandoned spots as well. Growing up in rural Manitoba, I used to love exploring abandoned farm houses as a kid.

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